China thought it had escaped blame for the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but is facing a second reckoning

Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping.

  • This time last year, China evaded international scrutiny over the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Other countries now want to probe China’s role again, and a once-mocked “lab leak” theory is back.
  • China’s initial success guarding its reputation in the wake of the pandemic now looks tenuous.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Around this time time last year, China thought it had escaped blame for the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which began on its soil.

At the World Health Assembly – the annual forum for World Health Organization member states – in May 2020, dozens of countries were meant to vote on a draft motion, led by Australia, to start an investigation meant to hold China to account.

But China outplayed the world on the day, with its diplomats securing instead a watered-down draft motion that called only for a review on “lessons learned,” without apportioning blame. President Xi Jinping promised an investigation of sorts, but framed it in a way that shielded China from blowback.

After delays, the WHO sent a team of experts to Wuhan, the Chinese city where the novel coronavirus was first found, to investigate where the virus came from.

By the time they started, it had been more than a year since an outbreak of respiratory illness around a wet market in Wuhan alarmed the world. The virus had largely faded from China, and evidence would be hard to come by even if the WHO team had free rein.

Throughout the trip, observers noticed how closely the WHO team was being managed by China, further limiting their ability to find anything surprising. After the trip one of its members said that China had refused to hand over key data when asked.

Nonetheless, when the WHO reported back it seemed to be definitive – the most extensive and independent investigation so far. Its conclusions looked like a straight win for China, yielding few definitive answers that could embarrass Xi.

wuhan institute of virology
The Wuhan Institute of Virology pictured on April 17, 2020.

Another victory for China was that the WHO team said it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus had leaked from a Wuhan lab, seeming to put another nail in the coffin of what was then mostly dismissed as a conspiracy theory.

China appeared to have got off lightly, and other nations were preoccupied dealing with their own urgent outbreaks, almost totally absent from China itself by 2021.

But, months later, the tide is turning.

The lab-leak theory has gained new traction in recent weeks, with The Wall Street Journal uncovering last month a US intelligence report that said that three employees at the Wuhan Institute of Virology got sick more than a month before experts found the first COVID-19 cases.

Days after The Journal’s report, President Joe Biden ordered a new investigation from the US intelligence community into the origins of the virus. Biden gave a 90-day deadline to conclude the probe, meaning a report can be expected in late August.

British intelligence agencies are also helping with the investigation, The Telegraph reported. Although there are still no conclusions, and China is adamant that there is nothing to see, the theory is no longer the sole preserve of internet cranks.

biden xi jinping china
Then-Vice President Joe Biden and Xi in Beijing in December 2013.

Elsewhere, the countries that supported the watered-down draft motion last year are planning another try, which could prove much more damaging for Xi and China.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg’s Alberto Nardelli and Josh Wingrove reported that the European Union – which helped propose last year’s motion – was prepared to join the US in a draft statement calling for “progress on a transparent, evidence-based, and expert-led WHO-convened phase 2 study on the origins of Covid-19, that is free from interference.”

The last words of that statement can be read as a pointed rejection of the WHO effort which initially seemed to settle the matter.

Bloomberg reported that the statement is still in drafts and could still be amended. Any new investigation is likely to anger China, and pick away at what initially seemed like a triumph.

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Facebook will no longer remove posts claiming COVID-19 is ‘man-made,’ as Biden calls for a new intelligence report into the virus’ origins

MZ   Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD:AFP via Getty Images
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

  • Facebook will no longer remove posts that claim COVID-19 was “man-made.”
  • President Joe Biden has asked for a new report into COVID-19 ‘s origins.
  • The dominant theory is the virus passed from bats to humans through an intermediary animal.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Facebook will no longer remove posts claiming that COVID-19 is a “man-made” virus, it said Wednesday.

In February, the tech giant said it would take down “debunked” claims that COVID-19 was created by people, but it has reversed its policy amid renewed interest in the virus’ origins from scientists and politicians.

“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made from our apps,” a Facebook spokesperson told Insider in an emailed statement.

“We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge.”

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he had asked the intelligence community to “redouble their efforts” to find a definitive answer to the virus’ origins. He gave investigators 90 days to report back.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that three scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) – which studies coronaviruses in bats – were hospitalized in November 2019 with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and other seasonal illnesses. The report cited a US intelligence report viewed by The Journal.

The first documented cases of COVID-19 were in Wuhan, a city in central China, in December 2019. So far, the dominant theory has been that the virus passed from bats to humans through an intermediary animal host. But some still question whether the virus escaped from the WIV in an accidental lab leak.

Claims that COVID-19 is “man-made,” or was created deliberately as a bioweapon, are very different to the lab-leak theory. These claims will now be allowed to circulate on Facebook.

A World Health Organization (WHO) report released in March said that the lab-leak theory was “considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway,” but it could not rule it out.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said at the time that he did “not believe the assessment was extensive enough,” and that the team behind the report faced difficulties in accessing valuable data from the WIV.

Many scientists still believe that a spillover from animals to humans is the most plausible explanation – three-quarters of emerging infectious diseases come from other species, and the COVID-19 virus shares a lot of its genetic code with other coronaviruses in the region.

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745,000 deaths a year can be linked to long working weeks of 55 hours or more, a WHO study suggests

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

  • Working 55 hours or more a week was linked to 745,000 deaths from strokes and heart disease in 2016, a WHO report said.
  • More than 70% of people who died were men, middle-aged and older, and from South East Asia or Western Pacific regions.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the trend towards working longer hours, the WHO said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Long working hours contributed to 745,000 deaths globally in 2016, a 29% increase since 2000, according to a joint study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Labour Organization.

The study found that working 55 hours or more a week was linked to a 35% increase in the risk of stroke and 17% higher risk of deadly heart disease, compared to working a 35 to 40-hour week.

Researchers took data from more than 2,300 surveys conducted between 1970 to 2018 to estimate the proportion of people exposed to long working hours in different countries, and combined this with meta analyses showing the relative risk of developing heart disease and stroke.

The total number of deaths attributable to longer working hours were then calculated using the WHO Global Health Estimates data, which recorded causes of death among the global population between 2000 and 2016.

Deaths related to longer working hours usually occurred later in life, sometimes decades after people had retired, researchers said.

Nearly three quarters of people who died were men who were middle-aged and older. People living in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, a region that includes China, Japan and Australia, were the most at risk of dying from heart disease and stroke associated with working long hours, researchers said.

The WHO said that 9% of the world work long hours, and that the COVID-19 pandemic was “accelerating developments” towards longer working hours.

“Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said in a statement. “In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours.”

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The WHO is granting emergency use of China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine

Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine
A vial of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine

  • WHO approved a COVID-1 vaccine from China’s Sinopharm for emergency use on Friday.
  • The vaccine was developed by Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned drugmaker, alongside the Beijing Institute of Biological Products.
  • This is the first time WHO has authorized any Chinese-made vaccine for emergency use.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A World Health Organization panel has authorized the emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccine made by China’s Sinopharm.

The vaccine was developed by Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned drugmaker, alongside the Beijing Institute of Biological Products.

“This expands the list of Covid-19 vaccines that Covax can buy, and gives countries confidence to expedite their own regulatory approval, and to import and administer a vaccine,” WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing, according to The Washington Post.

This is the first time that any Chinese-made vaccine has been granted emergency authorization by WHO.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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China accuses the US of ‘political manipulation’ after 14 countries allege Beijing hid data on the origins of COVID-19

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying.

  • China on Wednesday accused the US of politicizing the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The US and 13 other countries criticized China over a lack of transparency on the disease’s origins.
  • The criticism was linked to a new WHO report that came out this week.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

China on Wednesday accused the US of “political manipulation” as Beijing faces criticism over a World Health Organization report on the origins of COVID-19.

“We have repeatedly emphasized that origin tracing is a scientific issue, and it should be carried out cooperatively by global scientists and cannot be politicized, which is also the consensus of most countries,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said during a briefing, per CNN.

“The politicization of origin tracing is extremely immoral and unpopular, which only hinders global cooperation and [the] global fight against the virus,” Hua said, accusing countries like the US of disrespecting science and “political manipulation.”

After the release of the WHO report, the US and 13 other governments issued a joint statement expressing concerns regarding lack of “access to complete, original data and samples.”

“It is critical for independent experts to have full access to all pertinent human, animal, and environmental data, research, and personnel involved in the early stages of the outbreak relevant to determining how this pandemic emerged,” the statement said. “With all data in hand, the international community may independently assess COVID-19 origins, learn valuable lessons from this pandemic, and prevent future devastating consequences from outbreaks of disease.”

The WHO report, released on Tuesday, listed the possible origins of COVID-19. It said the virus likely jumped from bats to humans via another animal. At a press conference on Tuesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he does “not believe that this assessment was extensive enough.”

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Jen Psaki discussed the report at Tuesday’s press briefing, saying that President Joe Biden “believes the American people, the global community, the medical experts, the doctors – all of the people who have been working to save lives, the families who have lost loved ones – all deserve greater transparency.”

“They deserve better information. They deserve steps that are taken by the global community to provide that,” Psaki added. “The report lacks crucial data, information, and access. It represents a partial and incomplete picture.”

China has frequently been criticized by the US and its allies over a lack of transparency surrounding COVID-19, which was first detected in Wuhan, China. Along these lines, then-President Donald Trump accused the WHO of being too subservient to Beijing and announced he was pulling the US from the UN health agency. But in one of his first executive orders as president, Biden reversed Trump’s move to withdraw from the WHO.

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Most of the world’s poorest countries haven’t administered a single COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to the People’s Vaccine Alliance

Zipline vaccine
Zipline started distributing vaccines by drone in Ghana as part of COVAX’s first vaccine shipment.

  • At the start of March, at least 47 poor countries reportedly had not given any COVID-19 shots.
  • The data came from the People’s Vaccine Alliance.
  • Suspending patents would speed up production, experts said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As wealthier nations speed up their COVID-19 vaccine rollout, poorer countries are being left behind.

Rich nations, on average, vaccinated one person every second throughout January and February, while the majority of the poorest nations are yet to give a single dose, according to the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

Developing countries also face “critical shortages” of oxygen and medical supplies to cope with COVID-19 cases, the Alliance, a coalition of campaigning organizations including Oxfam, the International Trade Union Confederation, and ActionAid, said.

Vaccine doses are going to wealthier countries

To prevent wealthier countries from snatching up vital doses of the vaccine, groups including the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the COVAX scheme in April 2020.

Countries sign up to access an equal share of successful vaccine candidates, meaning the doses are shared among richer and poorer countries.

The companies behind the initiative said: “For lower-income funded nations … COVAX is quite literally a lifeline and the only viable way in which their citizens will get access to COVID-19 vaccines.”

Despite being a “phenomenal effort at international collaboration,” Covax is “seriously underfunded,” Ted Schrecker, professor of global health policy at Newcastle University Medical School, told Insider.

Covax made its first delivery to Ghana in February. Even as the doses procured through COVAX roll out to poor countries, however, the scheme will only be able to vaccinate 3% of their populations by mid-year, and “at best” 20% by the end of 2021, the Alliance said.

As of 4 March, at least 47 of the world’s 79 lowest-income countries hadn’t vaccinated any of their population, according to the Alliance.

In comparison, President Joe Biden said the US would have enough vaccines for every adult in America by the end of May.

Throughout the pandemic, groups including the People’s Vaccine Alliance have been raising concerns about “vaccine nationalism.” This is when richer countries hoard vaccines, while poorer countries are left scrambling to get their own stocks.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the WHO, said in February rich countries with only 16% of the world’s population had purchased 60% of available vaccine supplies.

Suspending patents would speed up production

Vaccines doses need to be produced in different areas, priced affordably, allocated globally, and widely deployed for free in local communities, the Alliance said. “Thus far, the world is failing on all four fronts,” it concluded.

The Alliance added that vaccine producers across the world would be ready to produce COVID-19 vaccines if the pharmaceutical companies with authorized vaccines shared their technology and expertise.

A modern factory should be able to start producing vaccines within four months if given the blueprint and technical advice, Suhaib Siddiqi, former director of chemistry at Moderna, said.

“It’s an outrage that vaccine factories are lying idle, unable to produce COVID-19 vaccines because rich countries are prioritizing the patents of pharmaceutical companies ahead of the lives of people across the world,” Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said. He urged pharmaceutical companies to suspend the patents on their COVID-19 vaccines so that they can be produced more quickly.

Gabriela Bucher, executive director at Oxfam International, said: “By allowing a small group of pharmaceutical companies to decide who lives and who dies, rich nations are prolonging this unprecedented global health emergency and putting countless more lives on the line.”

Wealthier countries could be motivated to ensure all countries have access to a vaccine because of herd immunity beliefs, however.

“In order to control the virus, we need worldwide herd immunity, so between 60% and 72% of the population need immunizing,” Alison Copeland, professor of human geography at Newcastle University, told Insider.

“This will hopefully be enough incentive for richer countries to help out.”

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The WHO says countries should keep using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine as it investigates reports of blood clots

astrazeneca vaccine
A vial and syringe seen in front of AstraZeneca’s logo.

  • Several countries have paused their use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in recent days.
  • They are investigating reports of blood clots developed in people who received a shot.
  • The WHO said it hasn’t found a link between the vaccine and clots, and urged countries to keep inoculating.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The World Health Organization has urged countries to keep inoculating citizens with AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine as it investigates reports that some people developed blood clots after getting the shot.

The agency’s Friday statement came as multiple countries paused their use of the vaccine as authorities investigate cases of blood clots found among people who were inoculated with it.

The WHO said on Friday that its investigators are also studying reports but stressed that they had not yet established a link between the vaccine and blood clots.

“WHO is very much aligned with the position that we should continue immunization until we have clarified the causal relationship,” said Mariangela Simao, the WHO’s assistant director-general, according to CNBC.

She added, according to The Washington Post: “People die every day. There will be people who are immunized who die of other causes.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus WHO
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Simao’s remarks came after one person in Denmark who had clots after getting the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine died, and another person in Austria died as a result of severe coagulation disorder after receiving a shot, according to country authorities.

There is no evidence that the vaccine causes an increased risk of developing blood clots. As Insider’s Dr. Catherine Schuster-Bruce reported, the data so far suggests that the risk of clots is no greater than in the population at large, and experts say the benefits of being inoculated against COVID-19 still outweigh the risks.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agency’s findings and any new recommendations would be released “immediately” upon completion. Simao said the statement was “probably” imminent.

AstraZeneca said this week there was “no evidence” that its vaccine causes increased risk of developing blood clots, CNBC reported.

The European Medicines Agency, which is also investigating blood clots’ reports, said on Wednesday there was “no indication” the vaccine had caused “thrombotic events” in people who received shots. It added that 30 cases of blood clots had been reported out of nearly 5 million vaccinated people.

Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Bulgaria, Romania, and Thailand have paused all use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. Italy suspended using the ABV2856 batch of the vaccine after two men in Sicily died after receiving doses, Reuters reported.

One of the men, a 43-year-old navy officer, died of a suspected heart attack the day after receiving his shot, Reuters reported.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is currently authorized for use in the UK and EU. AstraZeneca has not yet applied for US Food and Drug Administration approval, but a decision is expected in coming weeks after completing phase 3 clinical trials.

In February, a WHO expert panel recommended the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine’s use in people aged 18 and over and where coronavirus variants are circulating.

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Italy misled the WHO by claiming it was fully prepared for a pandemic when COVID-19 hit, lawsuit says

italy coronavirus mask flag
A man walks past a billboard raising awareness about COVID-19 in Naples, Italy.

  • Italy is accused of misleading the WHO in its pandemic preparedness when COVID-19 hit last year.
  • It said it was at the top level of readiness, but had not updated its plan since 2006, documents say.
  • The allegation is in a civil lawsuit filed against the government by families of COVID-19 victims.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The Italian government has been accused of misleading the World Health Organization in a self-assessment of its pandemic preparedness days before its COVID-19 outbreak, The Guardian’s Angela Giuffrida reported.

The allegation is part of a civil lawsuit filed against the government by families of coronavirus victims in Bergamo, a city in northern Italy that was heavily affected in the pandemic’s first wave last spring, according to Reuters.

Documents seen by The Guardian show that the country’s self-assessment report, filed to the WHO on February 4 last year, placed itself at “Level 5” – the maximum level of preparedness.

Italy is a signatory to the International Health Regulations treaty, which requires countries to file annual reports on their readiness for public-health emergencies.

When a country says it’s on Level 5 of preparedness, it means its health and national-emergency operations are “tested and updated regularly,” according to the self-assessment guidelines.

However, the country had not updated its pandemic-preparedness plan since 2006, The Guardian reported. A report on Italy’s pandemic response published by the WHO said the country reviewed the plan in 2017, but it merely reconfirmed the 2006 plan, the Associated Press reported

Top members of the Italian government, including then-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, have been questioned as part of the case, according to the newspaper. He told The Guardian last October he had done everything he could to mitigate the outbreak in trying circumstances.

Insider has contacted the office of Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who was in office during Conte’s tenure, and the country’s Ministry of Health for comment.

GettyImages 1215582958
Nurses prepare a patient for transport at a hospital in Lombardy, Italy, on March 29, 2020.

Italy was one of the first countries to be heavily affected by the spread of the virus, with reports last March of overwhelmed hospitals and, in Lombardy, a tragically expanded newspaper obituary section. The virus took hold with breathtaking speed, as Insider previously reported

As of Tuesday, the country has seen just under 96,000 deaths with the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracker. More than 2.8 million people in Italy have been infected. 

The country is second only to the UK for the number of COVID-19 deaths in Europe.

Italy’s first reported case was on February 21, 2020 – less than two weeks after the country gave the WHO its “Level 5” assurance, according to The Guardian. 

The retired army general Pier Paolo Lunelli, who has compiled an analysis of Italy’s self-assessment, said that most of the statements made in it were “groundless,” the paper reported. 

“We lied to the Italian citizens claiming we were ready,” Lunelli wrote, according to The Guardian. “Worse, we tried to deceive even the WHO, the EU and the ‘provident’ European countries, declaring to have capabilities which, in the light of the facts, we did not have.”

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WHO and Chinese scientists concluded it’s ‘extremely unlikely’ the coronavirus leaked from a lab, after a 4-week investigation

wuhan huanan market
A cyclist rides in front of the closed Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China on February 9, 2021.

A year into the pandemic, the origins of the coronavirus are still a mystery. 

The World Health Organization sent an international team to Wuhan, China in January to investigate where the virus came from and how it was introduced into the human population. Yet the investigation yielded few definitive answers.

The experts were able to take one hypothesis off the table, however: the idea that the novel coronavirus may have accidentally leaked from a Wuhan lab. This unsubstantiated theory was pushed by some members of the Trump administration in the spring. But Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO’s food safety and animal disease specialist, said in a Tuesday press conference that a lab leak is “extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus into the human population.”

The WHO team will not be revisiting that hypothesis in future studies, he said, adding that the virus most likely jumped from an animal host into people – just like Ebola and SARS did.

‘It was very unlikely that anything could escape from such a place’

WHO wuhan
Members of the World Health Organization’s team investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic attend a press conference in Wuhan, China, on February 9, 2021.

Working together with Chinese scientists, the WHO experts had unfettered access to key places in Wuhan over four weeks, including hospitals, laboratories, and the Huanan Seafood Market, which was linked to the first known cluster of COVID-19 cases. 

Those who’d suggested the possibility of a lab leak mostly pointed to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, since some scientists there study coronaviruses. It’s one of the highest-level biosafety labs in the world. There’s no evidence, however, that any coronavirus sample collected for study in that lab was accidentally released.

The WHO team spoke with managers and staff at the institute and other labs in the area about their safety protocols.

“Accidents do happen,” Ben Embarek said. “We have many examples in many countries in the world of past accidents.” But he added that such accidents are rare and the Wuhan institute houses a “state of the art lab and it is very unlikely that anything could escape from such a place.”

Jonna Mazet, a US epidemiologist who has worked with and trained researchers at the institute, also previously told Insider that “it’s highly unlikely this was a lab accident,” 

Mazet said she helped the staff develop and implement a “very stringent safety protocol.”

wuhan institute of virology
The Wuhan Institute of Virology, pictured on April 17, 2020.

In fact, the WHO team found no evidence that samples of the novel coronavirus existed in any Wuhan labs, or any other labs in the world, before the pandemic. 

Shi Zhengli, a virologist at the Wuhan institute, told Scientific American in April that she personally checked and found that none of the coronavirus samples stored at the institute matched the novel coronavirus’ genome.

“That really took a load off my mind,” Shi said. “I had not slept a wink for days.”

The virus likely jumped from bats to an intermediary host, then to people

Most experts agree that the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, jumped from an animal host to humans in what’s known as a spillover event.

Bats are common virus hosts: Cross-species hops from bats also led to outbreaks of Ebola and SARS. So labs around the world have analyzed genetic samples of bat coronaviruses that were circulating prior to the pandemic. One study found in February that the new coronavirus shares 96% of its genetic code with a coronavirus seen in Chinese bat populations. Then a May study revealed a closer match: A 97.1% similarity to a coronavirus called RmYN02, which was found in bats in China’s Yunnan province between May and October 2019.

horseshoe bat
A greater horseshoe bat, a relative of the bat species that was the original host of the SARS virus.

According to the WHO team, it’s unlikely the virus hopped directly from bats to people, though.

“Our initial findings suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one that will require more studies and more specific targeted research,” Ben Embarek said. 

Animals that might have served as that intermediary host include pangolins, ferrets, minks, snakes, or turtles. 

Marion Koopmans, a WHO virologist, said in the press conference the team found that rabbits and ferret-badgers sold at the Huanan Seafood Market came from regions in China where bats and other animals harbor viruses similar to the new coronavirus. Both of those species are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, so have been intermediary hosts. 

wuhan huanan market
Residents wear masks while walking in Wuhan, China, February 9, 2021.

But the WHO experts couldn’t confirm how the new coronavirus arrived at the Huanan market. It’s possible that an infected person passed the virus to others at the market, or “it could also be through the introduction of a product,” Ben Embarek said.

“A frozen wild animal that was infected could be a potential vehicle of the virus into market environments,” he added.

Still, the cases linked to the Huanan market were not the first in China.

The virus wasn’t engineered in a lab, either

A conspiracy theory similar to the lab-leak idea is that the new coronavirus was engineered in a Wuhan laboratory. A group of Chinese virologists with ties to former Trump strategist Steve Bannon suggested in September that Chinese scientists engineered the virus using existing bat coronaviruses as a “backbone” or “template.”

One of those virologists, Li-Meng Yan, told Fox News host Tucker Carlson that the virus was “man-made” and “intentionally” released by the Chinese government.

But that theory “has already been refuted by the scientific community around the world,” Liang Wannian, a member of China’s National Health Commission who assisted with the WHO investigation, said at the press conference.

covid researchers wuhan
A worker in protective gear directs members of the WHO investigation team upon their arrival at the airport in Wuhan, January 14, 2021.

A March study published in the journal Nature concluded based on genetic analysis that the new coronavirus wasn’t a hodgepodge of existing coronaviruses. The authors found it could not be a “laboratory construct” or “purposefully manipulated virus.”

“The genetic data irrefutably show that SARS-CoV-2 is not derived from any previously used virus backbone,” they said.

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An elite panel of world leaders has called out China for its bungled coronavirus response and is vowing to shore up the fledgling ‘global pandemic alert system’ by May

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

  • A group of world leaders tasked with leading a postmortem on the global response to the coronavirus pandemic has issued a rebuke to China’s early handling of the outbreak.
  • The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, which reports to the World Health Organization, chastised the Chinese government on Monday for what it suggested was a bungled response to COVID-19.
  • “What is clear to the Panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January,” they wrote in a new report.
  • The group also promised to issue new guidance to fix the world’s “global pandemic alert system,” which it called “not fit for purpose,” in another report coming in May.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A group of world leaders tasked with leading a postmortem on the global response to the coronavirus pandemic has issued a rebuke to China’s early handling of the outbreak. The group is promising to follow up with a laundry list of new recommendations on where the world went wrong in responding to the crisis.

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, a group of world leaders that collectively report to the World Health Organization, chastised the Chinese government on Monday for what it suggested was a bungled response to the emergence of COVID-19, which ultimately spiraled out of control last year.

“What is clear to the Panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January,” the Independent Panel said in a new report. The panel counts among its members Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of Liberia.

China was the first country to battle the coronavirus pandemic, locking down many regions at the beginning of 2020 to control its spread. Nevertheless, the virus managed to slip beyond China’s borders.

Still, the panel noted that China isn’t the only country to have struggled in its response to the pandemic.

“Never before in modern times has the international community been called on to respond to a global health crisis of this magnitude and with such widespread consequences,” the report went on to say. “The international system’s response has been found wanting in many respects.”

The group went on to call groups of countries like those in the G7 and G8 “largely reactive” in their COVID response, as opposed to proactive in implementing successful mitigation or control protocols.

With nearly 100 million confirmed cases and more than two million recorded deaths worldwide, following the panel’s guidance could be crucial for preventing such lethal public health crises in the future.

Read more: How pharmacies and retailers like Walmart, Kroger, and Rite Aid could benefit from the vaccination push

‘The global pandemic alert system is not fit for purpose’

To prevent another threatening virus from overwhelming the world’s patchwork public health systems, the panel promised to review the existing preventative structures as well as shore up protocols to deal with emerging diseases.

“The global pandemic alert system is not fit for purpose,” the report authors wrote. “Critical elements of the system are slow, cumbersome, and indecisive.”

The panel looked back on recommendations for handling the pandemic that the World Health Organization published throughout 2020, and identified nearly 900 individual pieces of guidance issued by the WHO or its regional offices. The flurry of constantly-evolving guidance itself could have overwhelmed people and contributed to confusion, the report noted.

“The sheer volume of recommendations issued suggests to the Panel the major risk of a lack of direction, clarity, and consistency of the type which would have assisted countries to set priorities in their responses,” the authors wrote, adding that they’ll continue to scrutinize the “coherence and prioritization of recommendations, and evidence concerning their actual patterns of use.”

Now, the panel plans to take a close look at “the methods and tools employed by surveillance and alarm systems” around the world and assess how effective those systems are. They committed to issuing a report in May of this year that could help bring about a “global reset,” and lay the groundwork for a more efficacious response than the one which unfolded in 2020.

Read more: The UK’s hospital system is on the brink of collapse, forcing overworked staff to postpone cancer treatments, stretch oxygen supplies, and put themselves at risk of catching COVID-19

Another report claims Chinese officials in Wuhan failed to direct a swift, cohesive response to the virus

The panel’s conclusions came out on the same day that the Al Jazeera news agency published previously-unseen videos of the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. The footage, shot clandestinely by two reporters and smuggled outside of China, is said to show how fear and confusion first spread in Wuhan, the hard-hit Chinese capital of Hubei province.

The videos, which Al Jazeera says were shot between January 19 and January 22, 2020, demonstrate the initial lack of urgency with which leaders in Wuhan met the novel coronavirus. Later footage captures the devolution into a much graver state that engulfed the city, which was eventually locked down. One of the reporters who is said to have filmed the footage wrote in his diary that “the lack of staff and equipment in Wuhan caused many infected patients to be denied treatment.”

In spite of China’s early difficulties combating the virus, strict public health measures have helped the country keep its newly-diagnosed daily cases low. Last week, however, the Associated Press reported that China was erecting a new 3,000-unit quarantine facility in the capital of the northern Hebei province, as a response to gradually rising case counts.

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